Sunday 2 June 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

I can’t believe they gave him a middle seat.”
     “They should really charge double, and leave the next seat empty.  I lost my armrest, and the guy was half in my lap.  And you saw how hard it was for the attendant to get the cart past him.”
     I was relieved when the woman’s suitcase arrived, since the pariah whom she and her seatmate had so cruelly disparaged must have been the very large gentleman whom two flight attendants were rolling into baggage claim in an extra-wide wheelchair.  A curious glance in the heave passenger’s direction pierced me with a sympathy so searing I might have been shot.  Looking at that man was like falling into a hole, and I had to look away because it was rude to stare, and even ruder to cry.
     “You, don’t recognize your own brother?”
     The smile I’d prepared in welcome crumpled.
Published by Harper Collins
Hardback - 9th May 2013
384 pages
Paperback - 16 January 2014
400 pages
For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savoured through their courtship, and spends hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.
Reviewed by Georgina Tranter
It has to be said, Lionel Shriver has done it again.  The author of the incredible We need to talk about Kevin has just written an explosive book focussing on that ever topical subject of food.  As this is an American author, then what better way to tackle our relationships about, and with, food than with the topic of obesity, of which American has a major problem.
Pandora Halfdanarson is a now flourishing business woman living in the state of Iowa; daughter of a successful soap-opera father, she has spent her life shunning the media. Her
brother Edison hasn’t.  A known jazz musician he has dreamt of living life in the limelight ever since he can remember.  After a few years absence, he calls Pandora out of the blue, asking if he can visit.  The man who greets her at the airport is not the brother she remembers.  He has piled on the pounds to become a grotesque enlarged version of himself, to the extent that she initially doesn’t recognise him.
What follows is a graphically descriptive account of our relationships with food, and how not only this can affect those living with us, but also the way we are treated and regarded in society.  It’s an engrossing read that, pardon the pun, I devoured in only a few sittings.  
It’s not a light-hearted read, as fans of Shriver will already expect of her, but a brutally honest account with an element of truth in its telling.  I’ll be recommending this to many people to read.


  1. cute belt on the book cover! And this is a great summary! I do really enjoy reading this post!

  2. I read a really interesting article in the Guardian by Lionel Shriver, about body image and how the media displays it. I'll definitely keep an eye out for Big Brother, and thanks for the review :)

  3. This sounds like it would be fantastic for book clubs!

  4. I thought this book was excellent. It is my first Shriver novel - I definitely need to go read her others because I loved her writing style.


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